Getting married in Thailand, the Thai way, is a complicated process in so many ways. As my wife to be put it: ‘A Thai Wedding has many steps’. It is important to note that these steps have to be followed before you even get to the Temple and Church for the actual wedding, and following each one correctly can be very important indeed to some Thai families, perhaps more so than the actual wedding ceremony itself.
Steps to Getting Engaged in Thailand
The number of ‘steps’ has reduced over time and the process, or ordeal (depending on your perspective), that I went through was three separate ceremonies rolled into one for convenience. The tradition also varies across the different regions of Thailand, and across the social classes. However, this is what to generally expect, give or take a few Buddhist monks. My wife’s family is Catholic so the monks were not invited.
Step 1: Promise to Marry
Traditionally there is a separate ‘Promise to Marry’ ceremony. What happens is that the Bridegroom and his parents go to the girl’s parent house. They agree the amount of the dowry (sin sod), pay a deposit (10%), and give gold. After this the Engagement is formalised. In the shortened version we had the amount of the dowry had already been agreed in advance, I gave a handful of Thai baht coins as a ‘deposit’, and re-gave my wife her engagement ring.
Step 2: Khan Maak Procession
This is the major part of the ceremony, and it is meant to be fun, even for the most traditional of Thai families. The Khan Maak procession involves the Bridegroom and his family making their way through the village to the girl’s family home to formally be accepted into their family. The young man standing next to me is Kiat (my wife’s cousin) and his role was something similar to that of Best Man. He held an umbrella for me and did other tasks to support me during the day. No doubt if there had been a tiger to fight off or something similar then he would have been expected to have done that as all.
Step 3: Passing through the Silver and Gold Gates
Before the Bridegroom reaches the family home he must pass through a number of ‘Gates’, traditionally a silver chain then a gold chain. The chains are held by female members of the bride’s family. To get through the chains money or other gifts must be given. The tradition is the women holding the chains to make it difficult for the bridegroom, refusing access and demanding more money and gifts in a playful way. This part of the Thai sense of ‘sanuk’ (which translates as something akin to having ‘fun in everyday situations’ or making ‘light of life’).
Step 4: Washing Bridegroom’s feet
Before entering the Bride’s family home the Bridegrooms feet are washed. This is a deeply symbolic act in many cultures and means the same thing here: the washing away of not only dirt but of past sins, and a cleansing process before embarking on a new life.
Step 5: Giving the Dowry
Before you can get married the dowry must be given. Again this was traditionally a ceremony in its own right. The dowry, generally money (and sometimes also more gold), is given on a special tray known as the Khan Maak Man. The elders of the village inspect the contents of the Khan Maak Man along the Bride’s father. It is normal for a show to be made of counting the money. The Bridegroom shouldn’t be offended it has nothing to do with trust – its a formal part of the ceremony.
Step 6: Tying the Sai Sin
Once the dowry has been given, then the joining of the couple is acknowledged by the tying of white thread (known as ‘Sai Sin’) around the wrists of Bride and Bridegroom. The parent go first and then the elders of the village and so on. This took about an hour and a half to complete this as everyone, including the children, wanted to tie the string to acknowledge the union. In the Isan variation of the Sai Sin ceremony an egg and a ball of sticky rice is held in the hand whilst the string is being tied. Before the string goes on the wrist it is passed over the egg and rice three times. This is to promote fertility in the couple and the practice is part of ancient local folklore.
The Sai Sin is meant to be left on the wrist for three days after the ceremony for good luck.
Step 7: Food after the Ceremony
After the ceremony everyone eats and drinks. This can be a very lively affair going on until late into the evening, complete with karaoke. We left early evening to go back to the Charoen Hotel in Udon Thani where we getting married the next day. If the wedding had been the same day and we were staying in the village, the next step would have been the preparation of the couple’s bed for the wedding night. Not only does it get decorated, but also the old women of the village sit on the bed waiting for the couple to come and give them ‘tips’ for the wedding night before they are left alone. I am pleased that I missed out on that one – it sounds off-putting to say the least!